No sooner had we left our overnight stop at Malijai, near Digne-Les-Bains, than the most wonderful sight appeared. We had happened upon The Pénitents of Les Mées, towering there right in front of us. There was only one thing to do – stop and take a proper look.
These incredible rock formations of hardened pebbles, stretch in a near straight line, rising to almost 500m high.
As usual in France, motorhome parking is easy enough. So we find a spot to park the campervan, in the large car park at the base of these colossal structures. For a moment, we just sit and look! Taking it all in and wondering if there’s more to see here.
Soon we realise, that this is just the start of a marked walking trail through the Pénitents. Now all we have to do is check out the signs and follow the route to discover more.
Before we know it, we’re taking to the 4km, 2-hour trail leading above these incredible stone-filled towers. We set out into the chill of the cool September air, knowing as soon as the sun hits us, that we’ll be in for some hot air to contend with.
Beginning in the old historic village of Mées, the easy path leads us from the parking area passed the towering natural formations. This little hamlet is worthy of a visit in itself – it’s simply a fascinating kind of place.
We wonder what we’ve come to. The narrow alleyways of Mées provide enough rustic charm and chaotic appeal to last the rest of the trip. What an intriguing find, and no more so than the way it’s huddled below the Pénitents themselves.
As the pebble path begins to rise above the little village of Mées, the change underfoot is obvious. Now, we are reaching the beginning of the main walking route through the gigantic structures. It’s time to turn back if there’s any doubt of fear of heights and narrow ledges.
For a moment, we can relax, as there’s little difficulty as we approach a view point. Then we pass a group of ramblers, taking their time on the pebbles, they wave us on as they stop to strip off a layer of clothing. Yes, that sun is out and the heat is on already.
Not only do we have the most amazing views of the flat plains below, but The Durance River is there in all its glory too. Best of all, we’re right by the pinnacles and feel in touching distance of the pointed marvels.
Then comes our worst fear – there’s a sign and it states the path ahead is difficult! So, the sweaty palms kick in – here we go – do or don’t time again!
Well, there’s only one thing to do – read the sign again to double check what lies ahead. Next, we know for sure – there’s warnings of sheer cliffs, narrow ledges and not forgetting the chance of falling rocks!
Fear not – because today we feel brave! So, onwards we tread, leaving the safety of the wide path and railings behind, each protecting us from the cliff edge and doom!
I’m pleased to report that all was worth it in the end. To be honest, I think we’ve been on worse paths and thankfully this was actually much better than many.
Better still, we didn’t feel too threatened by any sheer drops, but maybe that’s because we couldn’t see them. Yes, this is one of those places where the nature of the ground, doesn’t allow much in the way of seeing those sheer drops. Having said that, we’ve no doubt that they are exactly where they are supposed to be.
Today, the overgrowth around the edges disguises the peril that lies beyond the narrow track – thank goodness!
We tread carefully, not wanting to make a wrong move and end up in oblivion. Then as the path nears the top of these pointed pinnacles, we begin to feel more comfortable.
The views between the pointed peaks are stunning – stretching out across The Durance Valley, a fertile landscape and home to over 80,000 Olive trees.
Our location in the Alpes-Haute-Provence region is rich in produce from the land. It’s an area of South East France that brings a mix of history, industry and horticulture together. For us, it’s the surprise finds that add to the memories of our journey.
Stretching at almost 1500m, the first impression of these East to West facing Pénitents of Les Mées are quite something. Despite having seen similar pinnacles before in France, Italy and New Zealand, these seem quite extraordinary in appearance.
Feeling in the zone, we’re glad we took the plunge through the rocky peaks of pebbles. Not only are the views worth it, but the sheer scale of these formations is ultra fascinating from above.
These stoney peaks that surround us are thick with pebbles, where the dry earth clings between the hardened mass.
We soon find ourselves taking a circular route back to the car park and off the narrow path. The route now leads us down steps through some trees. It’s steep terrain, so we can now see why the signs direct you in the opposite way to start from the village. Although we do pass some people coming up this incline to the summit.
Our feet are soon back on the tarmac and the base of the Pénitents. Now, we can look up to the sky and feel accomplished at our morning walk between these huge pebbled structures. What a fabulous find and one more beautiful location to add to the memory bank of campervan travel.
Next time we’re in the Citadel town of Sisteron before reaching the blue waters of Lac de Serre Poncon, so stay tuned!